November 21st, 2012
A year ago, all I knew about Yiannis Tsiounis was a bunch of strange words: “entrepreneur”, sounding like a French something; “cryptograph” sounding like a huge conspiracy something; and “financial” sounding like something too serious…
But then, somehow Yiannis managed to make it all comprehensible to me in one e-mail, saying: “Yushino may need Nora ‘Noriko’ Malamidou!” And there appeared a board game in an Excel sheet and my new addiction flashed repeatedly on the screen…
And this is how I got to know it all. How you turn cryptography into gaming, how you turn gaming into a startup and how all this is the definition of what a Greek entrepreneur is!
Years ago, Yiannis’ wife, Kiki, had a crazy idea about a number-Scrabble. A year ago, this idea came into Yiannis’ sleeping mind, in a dream: it was Caesar dressed in algorithms, or let’s say the sequence Caesar used to encrypt his mail. And that was it: Yushino became the game and Yiannis the actual dream chaser!
Yushino is a number Scrabble or a social Sudoku. You make words with numbers, just by adding the last two digits. So, let’s say you make the Yushino word 12358. Then, it’s the other player’s turn. But, since numbers are universal, the other player might be a girl from Vietnam or the spicy “Italian girl 78” everybody is playing with nowadays…
Right now I’m playing more than 50 games. I’m playing with Argentina, Italy, Greece, Spain, USA, I’m playing day and night and I don’t even own an i-phone, I just borrow others’. Yes, it’s highly addictive. Yes, it’s highly entertaining. Yes, it makes you feel smart… And, yes, sometimes, when you’re giggling while chatting with an Italian, it can highly generate jealousy scenes…
Yiannis, the crazy cryptograph, told us all about Yushino in these Yushino numbered questions:
1. How does one go from cryptography to finance and then to gaming? Is it all one?
No, they’re all different. Man can be a plumber, a doctor, an engineer, a runner, you name it. Specialization is for insects! You never forget an art that you learn and it comes in handy at strange moments, but I do try to change industries periodically. We only live once, so let’s accumulate as many experiences before we return to ashes.
2. How did you come up with the Yushino idea?
It came to me in a dream; literally. But we typically dream about things we have been trying to solve for a while. Scrabble is one of the few games I play and my wife kept prodding me to build a “scrabble with numbers”. It did take a few years after that for the dream to arrive though!
3. Is your IQ a yushino number?
Ha! I don’t know, it depends on the last number of my score!
I do tend to do well in these tests, but I am not a big believer in them and neither is their creator, by the way. They are good in distinguishing those that have a real mental issue and cannot get above, say 100. But beyond that it is difficult to assert that someone with IQ 110 is really not as smart as someone with 130. The IQ tests are inevitably quantitative tests and those that like these kinds of challenges and practice them tend to do better. I see it all the time with Yushino. It is a quantitative test, and I have seen many players being really weak in the beginning and progressing to beat me by a healthy margin after only 3 or 4 games. It is proof that everyone can be good and smart if they try! And I suppose it’s good practice if you were planning on taking a MENSA test anytime soon!
5. Are you generally a gamer?
Not in the traditional sense. But I think life is a big game, and it’s not worth taking it too seriously. That’s why I start companies, race cars, change industries, and do a lot of the things we associate with “risk”.
In the traditional sense, I do play Scrabble and Words with Friends, and the occasional GranTurismo. I’ve also tried Sudoku and KenKen, which are nice, but I prefer the social aspect, which you can’t find in number-based games. This is the void that I wanted Yushino to fill – an international, numbers-based game that you can play with friends.
8. Do you think Greeks have the startup in them?
Absolutely! Not only do all the immigrant Greeks do their own thing, but even within Greece, where we are brainwashed as children to “get a good job working for the government and you will be all set for life” every Greek siezes every opportunity to do something new. Even the public servants are entrepreneurial, they constantly find new ways to ask for a buck under the table!
3. Being an entrepreneur is all about taking risks. What do you enjoy most in it?
I love risks that you can control. I get a buzz out of the challenges, the fast pace, the focus, the ability to control your own destiny, and the no-nonsense environment. You have to have a one-track-mind and be in it 24×7 to succeed – and even then there are no guarantees. And what matters is the team’s performance, not how well you talk to the boss. I never liked office politics.
1. What’s the best thing and the worst thing that can happen to a Yushino player?
Best thing: find your soulmate in Yushino!
Worst thing: drop out of the top 10 on the leader board, I guess.
‘Yushino Battles the WordBots’ (parody of ’Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ by the Flaming Lips)
4. Do you think Yushino can make the world fall in love with numbers? Or Greece?
Numbers, yes. I think it has a real potential for that. It demonstrates to even those that claim to “not be numbers people” that numbers are easy to work with, and fun!
For Greece, I hope it will help inch its international perception a notch towards the good side, but I doubt it will be enough by itself. If a lot of Greeks try to copy its success (not with knockoffs, but by starting other businesses) then I think collectively we can make a dent on the global perception that we are lazy receivers of German money.
5. It’s the Gaming Academy Award Night. You’ve won the Best Game Award and the people are ready to hear your statement. You walk up there, grab the pixel statue in your hand and say:
Thank you, Academy, for this great honor! Yushino would not have been possible without all the great people that helped built it; I want to thank our lead developers Andres Marcos and John Ng; Vassili Papageorgiou, our graphic designer; Nora Malamidou and Vassili Katsoupi, our marketing gurus; the rest of our excellent team and our friends and advisors; and of course my wife, Kiki Denis, who prodded me to do this and stood behind me while making it a reality!
I hope Yushino can help a lot of people, young and old, students and professionals, to get over their fear of numbers and meet people and have fun at the same time! If we manage to turn one kid from “math hater” to “math lover” without having to force them to do any homework then we will have succeeded!
Thank you again for this distinction, see you inside Yushino!
Tags: Andres Marcos, crossword, crossword puzzle, cryptography, Greek entrepreneur, John Ng, math lovers, Nora Malamidou, puzzle, scrabble, scrabble with numbers, sudoku, Vassili Katsoupi, Vassili Papageorgiou, words with friends, Yiannis Tsiounis, yushino